The City and the Pillar is a novel by the American writer Gore Vidal, published in 1948 for the first time and partly rewritten in 1965. Because of its explicit references to homosexuality, the author shocked America with this book; indeed, the New York Times refused to promote it and no American newspaper wanted to review it. Today the Italian publishing house Fazi Editore has decided to propose it again.
The plot centres on Jim Willard, a handsome, athletic and bashful youth, born in a middle class family from the South; Bob is his best friend. They play tennis together and sometimes they spend their weekends at the river. Bob decides to join the United States Merchant Marine, and the last weekend before Bob’s leaving is nothing like the others: the two young boys spend the night together and this experience will be crucial for Jim, who was used to dreaming about women before that. This revelation will not weigh the same for both of them: Bob leaves some time after, well-intentioned to see the world, without making his moves known to his companion.
As soon as he has the chance, Jim, against the advice of his family, leaves his studies and Virginia to begin his obsessive and obstinate search for Bob. He is the hub on a boat, then he lands in Hollywood and, finally, he moves to New York. As any young homosexual man at that time, he has many “secret” flirts, some insignificant, some others more serious: the lasting relationship with a Hollywood star, the peregrination with the writer Sullivan, the infatuation for Mary. Nothing really moves him inside. Bob is always on his mind. He is convinced that that weekend also left a mark on his friend, therefore he remains anchored to his past like a statue of salt, until he will be forced to face reality.
A courageous novel, ahead of its time, against the tide without being uselessly controversial , with a heart-breaking ending. The writing is smooth, effective, without too many turns of phrase. The title, taken from a passage in the book of Genesis (“Now the wife of Lot looked back and became a statue of salt”), refers to the protagonist’s behaviour, stuck in his teen years.
A must read novel, still able to portray efficiently homophobia and rebellion efficiently.
Translation by Monica Frigerio, edited by Camilla Gervasoni and Chiara Viviani, supervised by Jenovia Amisti Smith
Camilla Gervasoni and Chiara Viviani are students of the Linguistic Sciences and Foreign Letters faculty at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Brescia, Italy; they collaborate with Inkroci in the translation project coordinated by Professor Jenovia Amisti Smith.